New Canadians and Their Impact on Philanthropy

With the recent discussion surrounding the patriotism of immigrants, it is an interesting time to reflect on how new Canadians are impacting the country’s philanthropic landscape. As the Association of Fundraising Professionals celebrated National Philanthropy Day (NPD), I joined observances in multiple communities. In doing so, I got to observe how new Canadians are impacting philanthropy.

Numerous organizations struggle to tap into the streams of revenue they believe waves of new Canadians represent. However, those who demonstrate the greatest success in making the connection do so by proving they comprehend that it takes more than foreign language brochures or websites to connect a population with an organization. They also recognize that while the need to establish a relationship with a prospect is universal, the tactics for doing so are not.

Understanding the Realities of Immigrants

As someone who immigrated to Canada, I have long been surrounded by a social circle of new Canadians. While my experience was relatively easy and privileged, I have dear friends who were smuggled from safe house to safe house and literally walked over mountains dodging gunfire to get to Canada.  Their journeys looked nothing like the final scene from The Sound of Music! Some friends and colleagues wait for years to return to some sense of their professional selves, and others never will. Even those people who are less burdened by their effort to land in Canada are often still impacted by a sense of loss – of family, community, tradition and the familiar – all the things left behind in exchange for the opportunity to be a Canadian. For charities seeking to tap into the prosperity connected to these individuals, an understanding of these realities is a good first step.

A second step toward building meaningful relationships with new Canadians is an understanding of the realities they face in their new country. These can vary greatly depending on how they were welcomed to Canada: as part of the Economic Class, Family Class or Protected Class. Settling based on career potential, family unification or humanitarian considerations can give insight to the available resources and support to expedite integration, stability and independence – key considerations before one typically engages philanthropically. Many will find themselves lost and looking for opportunities to become grounded. For some, that means volunteering to occupy time before they are able to work. For others, volunteering provides the “Canadian experience” required by many employers and offers soft skills, insight into Canadian nuance and culture and restores a sense of self-confidence. In all circumstances, an understanding of the philanthropic traditions in their country of origin will help a charity understand the starting place for building a connection with these new prospects.

Early Arrival Support Creates a Lasting Impression

New Canadians rarely forget who helped them when they arrived. For that reason, charities that provided direct support, new insight, influential opportunities or addressed personal issues find themselves deeply connected to these forever-grateful individuals. Similar to the connections between annual giving donors and legacies, these relationships can endure.

This point was reinforced as I spoke with donors during NPD celebrations. Whether they had fled Eastern Europe during WWII, brought their kids to Canada for a brighter future, or immigrated recently from war-torn areas like Afghanistan, the connection to those who helped upon their arrival in Canada was unmistakable. In fact, one third of the Giving Hearts Awards bestowed at Vancouver’s NPD celebration went to recipients who were born abroad. In every case, the recipients highlighted the compulsion to give back to a country and society which had done so much for them personally.

Since many may have exhausted their financial resources in the migration process and find their financial constraints significant at the beginning of their life in Canada, philanthropy in this arena is a marathon and it is a race worth running. Canada is an expensive place to hang one’s hat – a point reinforced by the struggles faced by native-born Canadians in some of our metropolitan areas. However, a Canadian social trends article for Statistics Canada showed that when they give, giving rates from new Canadians can be on average 35% to 40% higher than donations from native-born Canadians.[1]

The numbers are important. Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of the WE Movement, recently reinforced a Stats Canada finding that, “Immigrants donate more to charity, on average, than Canadian-born citizens of the same economic class. That holds true down to the lowest income brackets”.[2] In 2016, Stats Canada also cited that in roughly ten years, when the next cohort of the population begins to turn 60, 36% of that population will be immigrants. By 2060, that ratio is expected to be roughly 47%.[3]  As our population ages, it will become increasingly diverse.

We know from fundraising 101 that it is all about relationships. The onus is on charities to build authentic connections with any prospect to turn them into a donor. With a greater understanding of the journey taken to arrive at the current destination, a path toward welcoming and engaging new Canadians in the North American philanthropic tradition becomes one which provides both parties what they seek.


[1] Giving and volunteering among Canada’s immigrants, Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada, Derrick Thomas,  May 17, 2012.

[2] The most generous group of Canadians might surprise you, WE Movement, Craig and Marc Kielburger.

[3] The contribution of immigration to the size and ethnocultural diversity of future cohorts of seniors, Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada, Yves CarrièreLaurent MartelJacques Légaré and Jean-François Picard, March 9, 2016.